Continuing from my previous article ‘Extending community participatory design in Singapore’s built environment: the potential of designers’, which postulates why designers should be mobilised in the push for greater community participatory design (CPD) efforts, we now take a closer look into the stakeholders within CPD projects. Through the analysis of the roles of various stakeholders and the relationships between them, ideas of how the designer can partake in the project as a ‘community facilitator’ could be derived.

The idea of a community facilitator stems from the Hello Neighbour! Project, a research and prototyping project carried out by HDB and the National University of Singapore (NUS) on the impact of the design of built environments on community bonding in Singapore. The Collaborative Neighbourhood Platform (Co-NP), which is “a mechanism to formalise and institutionalise the collaboration processes within the neighbourhood for long-term sustainability”, was proposed (Cho 2015).

CHO_aesop 2015_co-np

Fig. 1 Collaborative Neighbourhood Platform for participatory neighbourhood planning in Singapore public housing estates (Source: Cho 2015)

Within this platform, the Community Facilitator is required to coordinate with all other stakeholders. The roles of the Community Facilitator are listed as:

  • Main organiser of the engagement component
  • Training potential volunteers and community members in technical and social skills
  • Coordinating available resources
  • Providing organisational support
  • Developing a neighbourhood database

In order for a clear analysis of the role of the designer within CPD projects, stakeholders are sorted into the following categories:

stakeholders table

*‘Design background’ refers to having skills/knowledge related to the design and planning of the built environment, and excludes engineering.

A “stakeholders bubble diagram” similar to the Co-NP diagram (Fig. 1) would be used to outline the importance of and relationships between stakeholders within each case study. The colour of each circle represents the category that the particular stakeholder belongs to while the size of each circle is relative to the others, depending on the extent of participation of that stakeholder in the project. Arrows indicate direct interaction. As the evaluation mainly focuses on the role of designers, the designers would be placed in the centre. The cross-evaluation of the Comprehensive Redevelopment Program (CRP) of the Lower Ngau Tau Kok (II) Estate in Hong Kong and the first completed Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) project in Singapore using the stakeholders bubble diagram is elaborated below.

LNTK bubble diagram

Fig. 2 Stakeholders bubble diagram for CRP of the Lower Ngau Tau Kok (II) Estate (Source: Author’s own)

 

NRP bubble diagram

Fig. 3 Stakeholders bubble diagram for NRP at Bukit Batok West Ave 6/Central (Source: Author’s own)

 

In reference to the size of the designers circles, the designers in the LNTK (II) Estate CRP played a more active role in facilitating participation than those of the Bukit Batok NRP.  Although the LNTK (II) Estate community was the overall coordinator (as seen from the arrows linked to all other stakeholders), the design facilitators from the School of Design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University played a key role by empowering the community in getting involved in the design of their new estate. The design facilitators fulfilled two roles of the ‘community facilitator’ – being the main organiser of the engagement and training community members in technical skills. The main design facilitator, Lee, led the design of the participatory process, in particular the “empowerment games” utilised during the design awareness workshops (Lee et al. 2005). These game-like tools helped residents to relate everyday life experiences to architectural drawings, so that residents can envision how design and construction is carried out and participate in the design of their future estate. A good rapport between the designers and residents was built through the process.

On the other hand, the designers involved in the Bukit Batok NRP came from a private architectural firm and hardly had any direct contact with the residents. The Working Committee (WC), lead by the Advisor and coordinated by the Town Council (TC) and Residents’ Committee (RC), was the overall coordinator which acted as the main link between residents and designers. Through engagement events organised by the WC, residents provided their opinions, which are collated into a brief to be sent to the designers. The proposed design drafted by the designers is then exhibited to the residents to gather more feedback, after which this cycle repeats. Other than a representative from the design firm being part of the WC, the role of designers was that of typical private practice where a brief is provided and a design based on the brief is proposed.

A major reason accounting for this difference was the nature of the designers. In the Hong Kong example, designers were academics keen on CPD research, hence willing to invest time and effort to play more of the ‘community facilitator’ role. In the Singapore example, the designers were a practising firm held responsible for getting the design built within a stipulated time.  They are caught up with other practicalities, such as building laws and construction tenders. In addition, there are no obvious monetary values attached to the participatory engagement prior to design. This illustrates how in today’s context, it would be overly ideal to push extra responsibilities onto practising architects to carry out CPD.

Nevertheless, the fact that Singapore has room for raising CPD awareness within the designer community remains. One learning point from the CRP of LNTK (II) Estate is to engage architectural students to be facilitators in the engagement process. As CPD is still relatively new in Singapore, the architectural students could be mentored by pioneering CPD firms such as Participate in Design (P!D) or even overseas firms which are more experienced such as People Owned (Koh 2012). As mentioned by Cuff (1991), the student develops his or her “ethos of practice” in school and applies it into his or her professional career. Gradually, more designers would have first-hand CPD experience which might influence them to be more social-minded in their practice or even become community facilitators.


Bibliography

Cho, Im Sik. 2015. ‘Establishing Community Spaces to Encourage Interaction and Cultivate Strong Community: A Case Study on Singapore’s Public Housing Estates’. Microsoft PowerPoint presented at the AESOP (Association of European Schools of Planning) Annual Congress 2015, July 15.

Cuff, Dana. 1991. Architecture: The Story of Practice. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Koh, Michele. 2012. ‘For the People, By the People: John Higson, People Owned’. Singapore Architect.

Lee, Yanki, Timothy Jachna, and Roger Coleman. 2005. ‘Architecture for All: A Participatory Design Approach’. HKIA Journal, no. Autumn 2005. http://uiawpafa.hkia.net/images/case_studies/43.pdf.